It’s April 1861 in the small town of Wiscasset, Maine, and ambitious fourteen-year-old Joe Wood has a problem. He owes money to his local newspaper, the Wiscasset Herald. If he doesn’t scrape up the remaining $22.73 in thirteen days, the Herald will have to close. The only solution is to find thrilling news daily to sell extra copies. But what exciting stories can Joe and his friends, Charlie and Owen, find in Wiscasset? Much to their surprise, ideas for articles flood in as the nation takes its first serious steps towards the Civil War. Every day, the boys pay close attention to political remarks and stay close to the telegraph office. To top it off, a young Spiritualist medium, Nell, has come to town. Between the tense war news and Nell’s seemingly incredible powers, everyone’s nerves are shot and loyalties are questioned. Racist undercurrents rise up, and Owen, a free African American, is bullied. When he suddenly goes missing, Joe knows that he must do whatever he can to save his friend.
The dawn of the Civil War gets a fresh face with Uncertain Glory. Joe and his friends prove to be excellent channels for writing about the various aspects of a nation in chaos. As the rich local color proves, they are in many ways different from twenty-first century teenagers. But their rebellious, brave, and patriotic essence will settle well with today’s readers. Though the novel is targeted to readers aged ten to fourteen, the story is not simplistic. Wait has no qualms about adding in lots of Civil War data. That allows the reader to truly understand what is going on and how frightening it was for the people living it.
The novel also delves into topics that are not always mentioned in Civil War books. Besides the expected issues of loyalty and racism, opium addiction and the Spiritualist movement add an unexpected dimension. I was also pleased to discover that the story is partially based on true events, so I was able to learn about the real Joe Wood. Uncertain Glory is a moving story about people that not only stand at the brink of adulthood, but also at the edge of a dying era.